Start up: the tech productivity gap, adtech fraud to pass $7bn, the stacked chart delusion, and more


Sexual harassment is a problem even in large tech companies. Photo by ghedo on Flickr.

Why read it on a web page when you could sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email? You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The future is here. It just needs a big push » WSJ

Christopher Mims:

Past technological revolutions—the steam engine, electricity, the automobile, the telephone—have brought gains in welfare to all corners of the world. Continued sharp declines in poverty in Asia and Africa can be traced to the belated adoption of these old technologies.

But if the automobile, to take one revolution, helped make possible one of the greatest sustained economic booms in U.S. history, one that led to unprecedented prosperity for the middle class, why isn’t the more recent tech revolution doing the same?

Economists and economic historians think they have an answer. To put it bluntly, they say, the problem with the current technological revolution is that, despite multiple Internet booms, we have yet to figure out how to allocate enough capital to information technology and all it enables.

I was ready to say “but everyone has smartphones, even those fleeing countries”; however Mims’s argument is much more subtle: see the graphic below. Productivity isn’t rising. Why not, given all this technology?

Year-over-year change in U.S. labor productivity (output per hour), five-year moving average


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Ad fraud to cost brands $7.2bn this year » FT.com

Shannon Bond:

The advertising industry’s rapid shift to digital formats is providing a boon to fraudsters, who will cost brands $7.2bn this year, up from $6.3bn in 2015, according to new research.

Marketers are losing money to fraudulent viewing by “bots”, or automated computer programs, that mimic human behaviour. Advertisers pay for those views even though they are not seen by the real people campaigns are intended to reach.

The study by the US’s Association of National Advertisers, whose members collectively spend more than $250bn a year on marketing, and White Ops, an online ad fraud investigator, attributed the rise in projected losses to an expected 15 per cent rise in digital ad spending this year.

Comparatively small survey, but big advertisers – and they all saw “bot traffic” getting worse. One ad-tech exec was upset at yesterday’s link on this topic, but ad fraud matters: this might appear to represent only 3% of spend, but it’s a huge amount of money, and this is only the loss you’re sure about.
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What I learnt from being sexually harassed at Google » Gadgette

Julia Chou:

A recent study reported that 60% of women in Silicon Valley have been sexually harassed. Of those, 65% have received advances directly from a superior. These statistics caught me by surprise, though they probably shouldn’t have — I am one of them.

While at Google — a company well-known for its “Do no evil” culture — one of my managers sexually harassed me and made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. In the span of a week, I went from feeling excited and motivated about my job to feeling lethargic, anxious, and unenthused. As the youngest member of my team and the only woman, I felt stupid and naïve.

In that week, I was kissed on the cheek, asked to sit on my manager’s lap, told about my manager’s sex life and virility, and told that “all men go through an Asian fetish at some time,” among other wildly discomfiting, work-inappropriate things. Then I was asked to dinner alone. After a week of feeling confused and disrespected, my fight or flight reaction kicked in, and I immediately took the next shuttle home…

…During the HR investigation that ensued, I remember being shamed by a female colleague who thought I was blowing the situation out of proportion. She thought I was being overly sensitive, and that it was wrong of me to report my manager. That hurt. I thought she would’ve naturally supported me.

Concerning story. As a side note, Gadgette is clearly trying to shift subtly away from the conventional “here’s what a company announced in a blogpost today” output of the overwhelming majority of (male-targeting) tech sites.
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Hypocrisy and why Mike Hearn will not be missed by Bitcoin » Pond Politics

John Hardy:

Another complaint [Hearn, who left the bitcoin community after his proposal to increase block size was rejected – whether by fair means or foul including DDOS attacks] makes is that Chinese miners have a majority of network power, and consequently do not want to increase the block size because it will make it harder for them to compete. This to me is either naive or wilfully misleading. If an increased block size struggled to pass through the firewall, the side of the firewall with the greatest hashing power would benefit most (the Chinese side), as the other size would end up producing more orphan nodes. Nobody wants this, including Chinese miners, because it will damage the integrity of Bitcoin and people are willing to wait and try other solutions first.

Hearn: Even if a new team was built to replace Bitcoin Core, the problem of mining power being concentrated behind the Great Firewall would remain. Bitcoin has no future whilst it’s controlled by fewer than 10 people. And there’s no solution in sight for this problem: nobody even has any suggestions. For a community that has always worried about the block chain being taken over by an oppressive government, it is a rich irony.

The rich irony here, is that increasing the block size through XT would actually exacerbate the problem, and that Mike seems oblivious to this.

Ultimately, having lost in the battle of consensus, Mike Hearn has taken his ball and gone home. Bitcoin XT could not gain consensus because enough people believe in the Core team’s vision for a more graceful and innovative solution for scaling Bitcoin, rather than clunkily just bumping up a number and hoping for the best.

Yes, its fine to be sceptical of Core’s vision, but the beauty of Bitcoin is that if SegWit and LN do not deliver on their promises, consensus will soon form around an alternative. In the mean time, if transactions slow down and the network fails, consensus may form sooner. Bitcoin is not dead, people recognise it is in an experimental phase and will be prepared to be patient. One day Mike may well regret not having a little more of it himself.

There are reasonable criticisms on both sides of the block size debate, the censorship and DDOS has been concerning, but so has the wilful misinformation coming from the other side.

I’ve linked to Hardy’s post rather than Greg Slepak’s point-by-point rebuttal because Hardy seems to offer a broader overview that deals directly with the issues.

I’m still unconvinced that Hearn is wrong. Hardy’s point that Chinese miners wouldn’t want to have their capacity locked behind the Great Firewall, and the fact that there was a DDOS campaign to block Hearn’s Bitcoin XT proposal (miners running XT were hit with DDOS attacks) suggests there is money, not just principle, behind the status quo.

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It’s Wikipedia mythbuster time: 8 of the best on your 15th birthday » The Register

An excellent list from Andreas Kolbe, which ends with this one:

But Wikipedia needs money, doesn’t it?

That depends on your definition of “need”. Wikipedia’s article writers work for free. The Foundation’s employees, however, don’t. Their number has ballooned from eleven in 2007 to almost 300 today (17 in Fundraising alone). Internet hosting, once Wikipedia’s main expense, cost less than $2m last year; at the same time, the Foundation reported net assets of $78m, including $35m in “cash and cash equivalents” and $29m in “short-term investments”.

But the Foundation has long planned to set up an endowment; these plans are now going ahead. Secondly, with alternative knowledge delivery systems like Apple’s Siri and Google’s Knowledge Graph on the rise, some feel the days of the encyclopedia are numbered. Resources are being invested in Wikidata and a new “Discovery” or “Knowledge Engine” project said to have been a contributory factor in the current dust-up between the volunteer community and the Wikimedia board.

The question of what happens as usage shifts more to mobile is probably the biggest for Wikipedia’s next 15 years. (Via Seth Finkelstein.)
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Microsoft shares new details on HoloLens: up to 5.5hr battery life, device link and more » Petri

Brad Sams:

At an event in Tel Aviv, Bruce Harris, a Microsoft Technical Evangelist, shared new details about the company’s upcoming Hololens. The highly anticipated device will start shipping to developers this quarter but the company has not announced yet when the device will generally available to consumer or enterprise clients.

Bruce notes that any universal application that can currently run on Windows 10, will run natively, out of the box, on Hololens and the device is “totally wireless” and uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for communication. In fact, there will not be a wired option for this device.

Battery life, while it depends on your usage, can run up to 5.5 hours and under heavy load is closer to 2.5 hours when pushing the device to its limits; anything can connect to the device, as long as it supports Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Field of view is similar to a 15in monitor about two feet away from your face and the reason for this size on the field of view is because of cost and battery life. Harris notes that as manufacturing improves, the company intends to expand the field of view once it makes sense from a pricing perspective.

Harris also says that they are manufacturing the device themselves but it is not being made in the US like the Surface Hub.

I think five and a half hours would be more than enough time to be wearing a device like this. I’d like to know what optometrists think of the potential long-term effects. (One writeup said the 5.5hr life would be “when working on Word documents.” If you’re using a Hololens to work on Word, could I suggest you’re doing it wrong?)
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iOS code shows Apple experimenting with ultra fast, light-based Li-Fi wireless data for future iPhones » Apple Insider

Sam Oliver:

Beginning with iOS 9.1, the operating system’s library cache file makes mention of “LiFiCapability” alongside other hardware and software capability declarations. The change was spotted by Twitter user Chase Fromm and independently confirmed by AppleInsider.

Li-Fi works in a way not entirely unlike a traditional infrared remote control. Data is transmitted by rapidly modulating a light source, and received with a light sensor before being reassembled into an electronic signal.

Unlike your television remote, Li-Fi uses visible light and the modulation happens in a manner imperceptible to the human eye: that means the same bulb that lights your hallway can act as a data access point. It’s also much faster, with theoretical throughput capacity of up to 224 gigabits per second.

Indoor use only, obvs.
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After Dark in CSS » Bryan Braun

Classic Mac screensavers, rendered in CSS. Which I’m afraid means you can’t use them as screensavers, unless you put your browser into full screen. Code available on Github for the CSS-inclined.
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I hate stacked area charts » All this

Dr Drang:

I keep seeing stacked area charts in my travels around the ’net. Horace Dediu at Asymco, for example, seems particularly fond of them. It’s easy to see why. They have big blocks of color to attract the eye, and they don’t look as stodgy as their sibling, the stacked column chart. But I find them often misleading, even when their creator doesn’t intend them to be.

Here’s a fictitious example to show what I’m talking about. It’s a timeline of the change in market share, in percent, of three companies that are the only manufacturers of a particular device. We’ll call the companies Orange, Green, and Blue and use those colors in our charts. Let’s look at this chart.

Obviously, Orange started out dominating the market, but Blue expanded rapidly and took over. But here’s the harder question: How did Green do over this period?

Answer first, then read. Strong argument. You can, as he says, move them around so Green is on the bottom, but what if you have a four-way split and you’re trying to get them to represent correctly?
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HTC reportedly to set up independent VR company » Digitimes

HTC plans to spin off its virtual reality (VR) business unit to form an independent company in a bid boost its VR business operations, according to a Taipei-based Central News Agency (CNA) report.

HTC and its chairperson Cher Wang will hold a 100% stake in the planned VR company initially, the report said. HTC did not comment or confirm the report.

Wang said earlier on the sidelines of CES 2016 that HTC will set up an independent business unit to develop and operate VR platform products with the possibility that the unit may operate outside HTC.

Remember when HTC bought a chunk of Beats and then sold it – making an overall profit of $80m? Maybe this could be like that.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

One thought on “Start up: the tech productivity gap, adtech fraud to pass $7bn, the stacked chart delusion, and more

  1. Pingback: Start up: Bitcoin’s nightmare, the cheating economy, how Snapchat took off, Oculus spurns Macs, and more | The Overspill: when there's more that I want to say

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